Woman wearing headphones

Music has the ability to inspire movement. Think of Swan Lake without Tchaikovsky’s dramatic orchestration to bring meaning to the dancer’s movements (video). Combining music and movement creates an emotional connection that only deepens our understanding of movement. It’s what compels us to tap our foot when our favourite song comes on, or how a song can be stuck in our memory for days on end, or the feeling you get when you hear the song you danced to at your wedding.

I became a Pilates instructor in my final year of a Bachelor of Fine Arts. My focus was in music, and part of my program required me to take Anatomy for Fine Arts and Physiology of the Voice. My professor was a huge advocate of the Alexander Technique and Pilates. I soon developed a consistent Pilates practice that opened my eyes to the power of movement. When I later began teaching Pilates as my full-time job, I was determined to incorporate music into my classes.

Find your groove

A good playlist can enhance your client’s experience. We all have an emotional connection to music, and this is a good place to start when choosing music for your classes. Think about what kind of mood you want to set in a class. Is it an energetic and fast-paced advanced class, or a restorative class? Chances are if you were teaching a restorative class you wouldn’t opt for the latest hit from Katy Perry. This would create a kind of friction or dissonance in your class that would likely be disruptive to your students. They may not even know exactly why they lose focus, but they will since their ear will shift from your instruction to what the music is doing. Likewise, you probably don’t want your students to have too much of an emotional connection to a song and begin to break out in tears on their mats! For this reason, I usually steer clear of sappy love songs and classics like the Beatles repertoire.

Play to your audience

The next thing to consider when choosing music is the age demographic you work with. The reason I love Pilates as an exercise modality is that it is so accessible to a wide range of people, but this also means a wide range of musical tastes. Imagine teaching to a room full of excited teens and playing classical music for an hour; chances are you would see a lot of yawning happening. Choose music that you think will best engage the age demographic you work with: try to include a little something for everyone by choosing songs from different decades. A lively cover of an older song is a great way to keep younger and older clients alike engaged.

Link the movements to the music

Aerobic classes like Step Class or Aquafit are great examples of how rhythm can be a helpful tool when incorporating music into classes. I’m not suggesting that you have to teach a choreographed class, but linking the flow or pace of the movements to the music can enhance the clients’ experience. If you’re asking your students to do something particularly challenging, they may need a little motivation — aside from the sound of your voice — to inspire them.

There is no exact formula for what works best when choosing music for your classes. Music is kind of like ice cream: the majority of people like it, but not everyone likes the same flavor. Online tools like Songza, Soundcloud or Rdio provide us with countless resources for new and old music in a wide variety of genres. The safest bet is to find music that complements the mood of a class and the age demographic you work with. Make sure the music is not too loud: if you as the instructor are screaming over the stereo, chances are that your clients can’t even hear themselves think!

Use music as a tool to create an overall experience for your client. Linking the flow of the class to the tempo of your musical selections can inspire students to push a little harder, breathe a little deeper, and experience cohesiveness that brings them back to the mat time and time again.

BrittanyBrittany Coughlan For more info on music, Pilates and more, check out Brittany’s blog at ftpilates.ca .